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10 tips on how to play reggae bass

This reggae bass lesson will give you a few tips that will help make it easier for you to knowhow to play reggae bass how to play reggae bass.

1. Use a simple four string bass. The Fender Jazz or P bass is a very good start if you can afford one. If you can’t, use what you have be it four, five, six or seven string bass or purchase the best one you can afford.

2. Use the amp you have. Ideally you will need a professional amp but, if you can not afford good amp then a practice amp will do for the time being.  However if you do not have an amp and you are planning on getting one, think long term and go for the best one you can afford.  If at some point in the future you do not like playing reggae any more (God forbid) you can always sell it for reasonable price.  

3.  Use flat wound string on your bass for reggae.  They give a very nice mellow tone which is perfect for reggae and they do not make a lot of unwanted noise.  They feel smooth on the pads of the fingers and as a result make playing easy.  They also last longer than other types of strings and the older and ‘deader’ they are the better the sound. 

4.  The neck pick up is the best to use. Jazz Guitarists always use the neck pickups because it gives a darker and warmer sound.  Apply this same technique when playing reggae.  It will add deepness and sweetness to your bass groove. 

If you don’t believe me compare the bridge and the neck pickup and you will notice an obvious difference.  This is just a guide though, some players mix both pickups but, go easy here and keep it simple or you may ruin your sound. 

5.  Play close to the neck. Playing as close as possible to the neck will give a fat reggae thumping reggae sound.  Playing close to the bridge gives a crisp and clearer bass sound which is not necessary ideal for reggae but, very skilled players can get away with position change briefly.  Personal preferences do also play a role so feel free to change positions if you are after a particular sound.

6.  Use the pads of your fingers. Some players use a spectrum to play their bass and other use their fingers. For reggae try using the pads of your fingers. Your aim should be to play your notes as smoothly as possible. Do not rush, relax your picking hand and play with your heart and your ear.  

Be aware that many players do use their thumb to play reggae bass.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just means that your tonal feel may come across different from some one who uses their other fingers.

7.  Be relaxed. When playing the reggae bass – and it goes without saying but I will say it anyhow, try to be as relaxed as possible.  Reggae is a relaxing kind of music and the more relaxed you are the more you will get into the playing and your heart and instrument will do the talking.  If you are tense, your playing will be perceived as such and you will not transmit the correct vibe.

8.  Create a catchy bass groove. If you are creating your own bass-lines (which I hope you are!) you will no doubt want to make it sit right in the mix.  To achieve this, think of the reggae bass line like a recurring lead guitar solo piece. 

That means the pattern must be catchy while at the same time be profound. It does not have to be complex – the simpler the better. When someone hears it they should go away singing it in their head.  If that happens, pat yourself on the shoulder - you have pretty much achieved what many reggae bass players find very hard to do. 

9.  Play on and around the one drop. If you are just learning how to play reggae bass practice with a metronome or a drum beat.  It is absolutely essential that you do this.  The reggae bass line must be synchronized with the drums.  Listen to the drums very carefully to hear how it holds everything together.  

Listen especially for the one drop.  This is very important since you are either going to play around the one drop or you are going to play on it so to speak.  If you find this hard to understand, listen to Bob Marley’s One Drop song.

Hear how the snare and bass drum use the third beat of the song to free up space for the bass and other instruments to do their thing.  Learn to play in the space around the one drop and at other times play on the one drop to give that Roots Reggae feel.

10.  Learn as many reggae bass scales as possible. Learn the pentatonic major and minor scale since many reggae bass parts are played using these scales.  Be aware though that knowing only these scales can be very limiting. 

I would go as far as to say learn as many scales as you can, especially the major scale or Ionian scale.  

You can go very far with just the major scale alone since all the modes and their derivatives can be found in it.  When using the scales don’t just run up and down in them.  But, try to find profound creative patterns which are catchy. 

You can do this by incorporating chromatics, by starting on a note above or below, by pausing and stopping etc.  And last but by no means least practice, practice and practice!

  
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Dwayne Griffiths

Dwayne Griffiths New Album is out!